Monday, June 11, 2018

What was and what might be

by Viv Forbes

Famine has haunted humans for most of their history. In the days of the Pharaohs, whenever the Nile River failed to flood, Egypt starved. Joseph was called in and he organised stockpiling of grain for famine relief.

Even mighty Rome suffered famines – in 436 BC thousands of starving people threw themselves into the Tiber.

The cold Middle Ages in Europe were haunted by famines. In the 11th and 12th century, famines averaged one in 14 years. Even in England there were 22 recorded famines in the 13th century. In 1235, 20,000 people died in London and people ate horse flesh, bark and grass. There were great famines in India, Bengal, France, China and Russia.

In more recent times, man-made famines were more common in the Comrade Societies – some wit once remarked that “Soviet agriculture has just suffered its 23rd consecutive year of unseasonal weather”.

Some famines were deliberate policy such as Stalin’s liquidation of the Kulaks in 1918 and his starvation of Ukraine in the 1932-33, while other dictators like Mao in China and Pol Pot in Cambodia caused famine with destructive collectivist farm policies.

Famines eased in Europe and North America from about 1860, partly because crops improved with warmer weather and also because of the great increases in land opened up in the Americas for farming and grazing.

But the biggest expansion in food production started with the invention of the coal-powered steam engine – the iron and steel smelted with coal, and the engines, generators and machines powered by coal and then oil, created a food and population explosion.

First were the steam-powered traction engines which pumped water and pulled iron ploughs, planters, harvesters, freight wagons and forest logs. Millions of crop-eating draught horses and oxen went to the butchers and no longer consumed half of the farm crops produced.

Then hunters armed with carbon-powered gunpowder decimated the wild herds of bison, antelope and deer grazing the prairies of the Americas, replacing them with barbed wire and beef cattle. (Most people today probably disapprove of such species slaughter; but it happened, and the food produced on that land now supports farmers, towns and millions of people.)

The cumbersome steam tractors were replaced by internal combustion engines burning kerosene, petrol and diesel.

The model T utility and Fordson tractors created another farming revolution with more food produced with fewer food-consuming draft animals and farm labourers.

Coal-powered trains and petrol-powered trucks and buses moved food, and motorised artillery, cavalry, baggage trains and ambulances moved armies. Millions of ever-hungry and ever-thirsty horses, mules and oxen were removed from the food and water queues.

The vast crop-lands which had been used to produce food for draft animals now produced meat, eggs, milk, butter and grains for humans.

Galvanised iron, steel and concrete (all made using two carbon emitting raw materials, coal and limestone) became invaluable for hay sheds, dairies, cold rooms and silos allowing farmers to store farm produce for droughts and winters.

Engines were soon powering refrigerated trucks, road trains, trains and ships that moved food quickly from farms, factories, abattoirs and mills to refrigerated storage in distant cities, thus greatly reducing the amount of food wasted.

The next revolution in food production was the discovery and manufacture of nitrate fertilisers and urea using the natural gases nitrogen, methane and carbon dioxide. These fertilisers, assisted by vast irrigation schemes, gave a huge boost to crop growth.

This stunning food revolution based on combustion engines, hydro-carbon fuels, natural gas fertilisers, irrigation and refrigeration has banished famine from the first world.

But every system has its limits. Famine is always just a season or two away. It bides its time, waiting for a failure in the complex carbon-fuelled agricultural, transport and storage network that supports every city.

When hunter-gatherers experienced food shortages, they followed the rains, scavenged for food and largely survived. When farmers and fences replaced hunter-gathers they cultivated large areas of land to grow grasses and grains for poultry, cattle, goats, sheep and pigs. This created a huge increase in food production, but it also tied the farmers to the land – when drought struck, they could not follow the storms.

As farming grew, so too did the dependent cities of factory workers, merchants, tax collectors, rulers, bureaucrats, policemen and soldiers, none of whom produced food. More recently this hungry overhead has been joined by a growing army of welfare and aid recipients, political immigrants and refugees. However, when drought or severe cold threatens the food supply, the cities cannot move away.

Just one thing is now required to create a modern famine – widespread crop failure.

What causes crop failures? Unsuitable conditions in one or more of just three key atmospheric conditions: temperature (unseasonal frost, snow or heat); moisture (extreme floods or droughts); and carbon dioxide (too little to sustain healthy plant growth).

The Little Ice Age ended around the start of the 20th century. Today’s warm climate is very farm-friendly and tends to have most effect on the cold lands of the northern hemisphere, thus increasing the acreage and productivity of the vast crop lands there.

Warmth also drives moisture and carbon dioxide plant food out of the oceans into the atmosphere, creating a much more crop-friendly environment. The extra moisture shows up as more precipitation and the extra carbon dioxide we see today makes plants grow faster and stronger. Extra warmth, moisture and carbon dioxide help greatly to increase crop yields and banish famine.

However, Earth’s climate is always changing, and there is significant evidence that we are past the warm peak of this climate cycle and are on the road to the next advance of the ice.

All we hear from the climate industry and the dark green media are the claimed dangers of global warming. However it is global cooling that poses a dire threat to world food supplies.

First the frosts and snow come earlier and stay later – the growing season gets shorter. Then winter snow persists into summer, ice sheets and glaciers advance and boreal forests and tundra invade grasslands - the great northern crop lands are forced to move south. The cold also reduces evaporation from oceans, lakes and streams, thus reducing rainfall. Growing ice sheets cause falling sea levels, dewatering coastal fish farms and breeding grounds. And, in the final blow, cold oceans and lakes absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, further reducing plant growth. Icy eras reinforce all three crop destroyers: cold, drought and carbon-dioxide starvation.

In addition to climate dangers, foolish green zealots in the comfortable western democracies are also nibbling away at the area of land and sea allowed for harvesting food. They also reduce the land devoted to growing food by subsidising crops for ethanol and biodiesel production.

They are also seeking global powers in an anti-life campaign to encourage global cooling by reducing the carbon dioxide content of Earth’s atmosphere. Luckily their costly anti-carbon goals will have no effect on the grand cycles of global climate, but they will harm the cost, capacity and reliability of our complex energy-dependent food production storage and distribution system.

The Green energy they idolise is intermittent and unreliable – it breeds network instability and power failures.

The fierce dog of famine is tethered outside the city gate. Our abundant supplies of reliable energy for the production, harvesting, transport, processing, storage and distribution of food have kept him at bay. But still he waits patiently for foolish politicians or dreadful weather to let him loose.

A natural disaster affecting key Asian oil refineries or a naval blockade of the fleet of tankers carrying petroleum products to Australia would stop road transport of food to Australian cities in a few days.

Just one decent regional blackout would empty supermarket shelves and create long queues at every service station; two frigid winters would see food prices soar; and a return of the Little Ice Age or worse will see starvation stalking the cities.


How the Obama EPA Fudged Regulatory Evaluation

Estimating "social costs" and "social benefits," the EPA put a big price tag on doing nothing

It isn’t necessarily news to say the Obama administration used the Environmental Protection Agency treacherously, employing deceitful methods to enact a burdensome environmental agenda. But a recent report sheds some light on one way this was accomplished — “by gaming cost-benefit analysis to downplay the consequences of its major environmental rules,” The Wall Street Journal reveals.

The Obama EPA produced an annualized average of 565 directives, “imposing the highest regulatory costs of any agency,” according to the Journal. Legally, the EPA is generally required to submit these proposals to a cost-benefit analysis. The caveat is that the agency is also afforded considerable leeway in the process. The Obama administration considered this an opportunity and proceeded to exploit the system by estimating a cost for not enacting regulations.

The Journal explains, “By introducing ‘social costs’ and ‘social benefits,’ the EPA began factoring in speculation about how regulatory inaction would affect everything from rising sea levels to pediatric asthma. EPA optimists even included their guesses about how domestic regulations could have a global impact. Meanwhile, the agency ignored best practices from the Office of Management and Budget, juking the numbers to raise the cost of carbon emissions.”

To illustrate, in the run-up to the superfluous and extremely costly Clean Power Plan, the Journal says “the EPA suddenly raised the social cost of a ton of carbon emissions to an average of $36 from $21. Before it embarked on new oil and gas regulations, the EPA put the social cost of methane at an average of $1,100 per ton.” After reexamining the claims using verifiable criteria, Scott Pruitt’s EPA came up with vastly different numbers. The result? “While the Obama Administration claimed the Clean Power Plan would yield up to $43 billion in net benefits by 2030, the Trump EPA concluded it would carry a $13 billion net cost,” the Journal notes.

Thankfully, Pruitt intends to ameliorate the cost-benefit analysis process. Earlier this year, “secret science” was banned, to which Pruitt explained, “We need to make sure [the] data and methodology are published as part of the record. Otherwise, it’s not transparent.” His rationalization to the cost-benefit analysis change is exactly the same. As the Journal concludes, “If Mr. Pruitt succeeds, future cost-benefit analyses will be more consistent and transparent.” Pruitt is both reining in the EPA and demonstrating the extent to which his predecessors went rogue.


Blame California’s Crazy Green/Left Politics for Water Rationing

California suffers from droughts, but the state’s government is an endless well of bad ideas. The latest absurd legislation, which Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed into law, places onerous restrictions on water usage.

California citizens will be limited to using 55 gallons of water a day now and just 50 per day by 2030.

According to the San Jose  Mercury News, the new laws will “require cities, water districts and large agricultural water districts to set strict annual water budgets, face fines of $1,000 per day if they don’t meet them, and $10,000 a day during drought emergencies.”

As some have noted, the restriction could make it difficult for some California citizens to do laundry and take a shower on the same day without going over the limit.

A Snopes fact check said that this fine is placed on the water provider, not the consumer as some have claimed. This misses the fact that the cost of the fines likely will be passed on to the customer, either directly for violations, indirectly through increased cost of water, or worse, by threatening to shut off household water consumption to avoid fines.

Even some left-leaning outlets admitted the impact on consumers is unknown and the 55-gallon limit is much lower than the average summer usage for the typical Californian. Taking a shower and doing laundry could exceed that amount for some.

According to The Sacramento Bee, the State Water Resources Control Board estimates California residents used an average of 90 gallons of indoor and outdoor water per day in 2017, down from 109 gallons in 2013.

Californians will pay for this law one way or another, making it just a little harder for the middle class to thrive.

The problem also threatens the state’s enormous and important agricultural industry, which is where most of the state’s water goes.

In addition to this legislation, the state is also considering a new tax on drinking water to pay for new infrastructure projects.

The question is: Are these kinds of laws necessary?

Regardless of how punitive the water usage laws end up being, debate over the details obscures the fact California is always quick to crack down on the individual behavior of citizens with obnoxious regulations before it works to efficiently manage its resources.

Instead of promoting efficient, pro-growth policies, state leaders are in thrall to environmentalist ideology and utopian spending schemes that have created poverty and, yes, economic inequality, even as the state goes through an economic boom.

That California, the richest state in the union and one which in no way suffers for lack of tax revenue, cannot find a way to manage its water resources without cracking down with burdensome regulation is telling.

Droughts are nothing new in California, especially in the desert south, but the increasing inability to deal with them is.

California wastes enormous sums of money on a bullet train to nowhere and other excessive spending priorities, but it has neglected to strengthen its water management infrastructure, leaving it susceptible to shortages and rationing.

As Joel Kotkin, fellow in urban studies at Chapman University, explained in a 2015 interview with Reason, the problem goes beyond water.

“The water situation in California is pretty bad,” he said. “You have to understand that we haven’t built any new infrastructure for the last 20 years. This, by the way, is not unique to water. It’s roads, it’s schools, it’s an unwillingness to invest in the future because we spend all our money in government paying the pensions of employees.”

And through this crisis, California has spent enormous resources to protect the delta smelt, a 3-inch fish that appears to be going extinct despite enormously wasteful environmental projects.

“To protect smelt from water pumps, government regulators have flushed 1.4 trillion gallons of water into the San Francisco Bay since 2008,” according to a 2015 report in The Wall Street Journal. “That would have been enough to sustain 6.4 million Californians for six years. Yet a survey of young adult smelt in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta last fall yielded just eight fish, the lowest level since 1967.”

California must find a way to deal with its water shortages. The state may be recovering from a drought, but more are sure to come.

Instead of nickel-and-diming taxpayers and creating onerous restrictions, the state should focus on getting its finances in order and prioritizing basic infrastructure needs over fruitless left-wing welfare schemes.


Freeze, reduce or eliminate CAFÉ fuel standards

Too many small, lightweight cars cause too many deaths and injuries to justify tighter mpg rule

Paul Driessen

Saying the air traffic controller work force was “too white,” the Obama Federal Aviation Administration allegedly replaced hiring standards based on science, math and ability to handle intense pressure with rules designed to increase racial diversity. It’s hard to find a more flagrant example of bureaucrats putting people’s safety and lives so low on their list of priorities. Difficult but not impossible.

Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards also play with people’s lives. Enacted in the 1970s amid fears of imminent oil depletion, the rules require that cars and light trucks on average across each manufacturer’s entire smorgasbord of vehicles must get better and better mileage over a period of years.

For the first few years, improving gasoline mileage was relatively easy. But as the standards tightened, car makers had to make vehicles smaller and use less steel and more aluminum and plastic to achieve the arbitrary mileage demands. That poses a serious problem that the Trump Administration wants to fix.

Bigger, heavier vehicles are safer, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has said for decades. Smaller, lighter vehicles are less crashworthy, less safe. Drivers and passengers in cars and light trucks are many times more likely to die in a crash – and far more likely to maimed, disfigured, disabled or paralyzed – beyond what would have occurred if the CAFÉ standards did not exist or had been relaxed.

Even with side air bags and other expensive vehicle modifications, smaller, lighter vehicles have less “armor” to protect occupants, and less space between them and any car, truck, bus, tree or other obstacle they might collide with. So they are less safe and more expensive – less affordable for poor families.

As Competitive Enterprise Institute general counsel Sam Kazman noted in a recent Wall Street Journal article, a 2002 National Academy of Sciences study estimated that CAFÉ rules had contributed to as many as 2,600 extra fatalities in 1993 – at a relatively lenient standard of 27.5 miles per gallon. Studies by the Brookings Institution, Harvard School of Public Health, National Academy of Sciences and USA Today all reached similar conclusions.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) covered all this up. Grizzly facts would not be allowed to get in the way of a well-intentioned government program.

Thankfully, the mileage standards stayed around 27.5 mpg throughout the 1990s and beyond. But then, in 2012, the Obama Administration began ratcheting the standards upward, with the goal of hitting 54.5 mpg by 2025. The Environmental Protection Agency had begun helping to manage the NHTSA mileage program in 2009, and it became the driving force for doubling the mpg requirements. It became equally complicit in hiding the death and injury tolls associated with CAFÉ.

Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking), other new technologies, and the discovery of new oil and gas deposits mean we will not run out of oil or natural gas for another century or more. So the Obama Administration asserted that mandating far tighter mileage rules would have the co-benefit of reducing tailpipe emissions of “greenhouse gases” associated with dangerous manmade climate change.

Scary headlines, data manipulation, computer models and well-orchestrated campaigns to link nearly every extreme weather event to rising atmospheric levels of (plant-fertilizing) carbon dioxide enabled the climate scare to get as far as it has. But the climate cataclysm movement is running out of gas.

People no longer accept claims that Earth’s climate was stable until the 1970s. They remember that it was a global cooling and global warming scare, before it became a climate change and extreme weather scare. They realize global temperatures have been stable for nearly 20 years, complying with Paris treaty and other climate edicts would cost trillions of dollars, and emerging economic powerhouses like China and India are not obligated or likely to reduce their use of fossil fuels or emission of greenhouse gases.

Despite $557 million in quiet funding by rich liberal foundations to wealthy alarmist groups, people are also figuring out that the Paris treaty actually has little or nothing to do with the climate or environment. “Climate change” is now used to justify replacing the capitalist economic model with a global governance system – and redistributing the world’s resources and wealth. The treaty itself says climate action must include an emphasis on “gender equality,” “empowerment of women,” “intergenerational equity” and “climate justice.” These are the “climate dangers” that supposedly justify lethal CAFÉ rules.

Thankfully, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt recently proposed to re-examine the 54.5-mpg-by-2025 Obama EPA-NHTSA standards – and possibly freeze them at the pending 2020 level of 39 mpg. Mr. Pruitt noted that the standards had been implemented after years of lobbying by environmental pressure groups, and that assertions of climate and weather benefits do not reflect scientific or historical reality.

There has also been talk of revoking California’s unique right to set tougher standards than are applicable to the rest of the USA, and preventing the state from applying its more stringent mileage rules beyond its borders. EPA and Transportation Department officials say they have held “productive” discussions with California air quality regulators and others – but it’s hard to say where the talks might be headed.

The proposals drew predictable howls of outrage from environmentalists and California legislators and regulators, who are sticking to their claims that tougher mpg rules will somehow avoid climate chaos. An automobile manufacturers lobbying group insists that mileage standards should increase every year.

Auto makers would understandably prefer to have a single national mileage standard, rather than two: ultra tough rules for California and a less stringent mpg requirement for the rest of America. But the injury and death tolls dictate that any standard must be held well below 54.5 mpg or even 39 or 30 mpg.

Pruitt did not mention the injury and death tolls that result from these mileage standards. He should have, and his new plan to implement comprehensive cost-benefit reforms would compel his regulators to fairly, honestly and accurately assess the social and environmental costs and benefits of proposed mileage rules.

That would stand in stark contrast to the way EPA handled its arbitrary social cost of carbon analyses. The Obama agency looked only at alleged and exaggerated worldwide costs of United States carbon dioxide emissions – while totally ignoring the immense and obvious benefits of using fossil fuels. To compound the insanity, EPA claimed it could make reliable predictions three centuries into the future!

To support its various pollution control measures, the Obama EPA raised its “value of a statistical life” presumably saved by a proposed regulation from $7.9 million in 2011 to $9.7 million in 2013. The VSL estimates how much money people are willing to spend to reduce a risk enough to save one life. There is no evidence that EPA employed VSL to estimate the human cost of doubling the 1993 27.5 mpg standard.

The agency should certainly do so now. Using a $10-million VSL, $2 million per serious injury or paralysis – and 4,000 deaths and 50,000 serious injuries per year from a 54.5 mpg standard – would mean the average fuel efficiency demanded by California and radical greens would cost the United States $50 billion a year. In return, we would get small, purely speculative climate and weather benefits from burning less gasoline in the USA, assuming that tailpipe emissions play a major role in climate change.

(Applying similar cost-benefit analyses to electric cars would raise serious questions about the generous state and federal tax rebates, free access to toll and HOV lanes, free charging stations and other subsidies for pricey vehicles that only wealthy families can afford.)

Volkswagen’s deceit about diesel emissions defrauded consumers but didn’t kill anyone. And yet VW has generated far more regulatory, judicial, legislative and media outrage than lethal mileage standards.

As Ralph Nader might say, CAFÉ standards make cars unsafe at any speed – not by faulty car design, but by government decree. It’s time to reduce, eliminate or at least freeze these killer standards (and do the same thing with the ethanol mandates and gravy train).

Via email

Recycling: A stupid, expensive and ineffective fad

If labor costs are included it is doubtful if any municipal recycling scheme ever ran at a profit

In an era when concern for the environment is widely viewed as the truest form of “spiritual” and moral living, it has become anathema to question the validity of the tenets of this secular religion. This public attitude largely explains why many dubious practices that have been wrapped up in the altruistic guise of “saving the environment” receive little critical analysis. One prime example of this phenomenon is the recycling movement. The obvious moral principle of stewardship underlying the concept of recycling is indeed commendable. But a book should not be judged by its cover, and recycling in practice is neither economically nor environmentally all that it’s cracked up to be.

Much of the energy and time families and individuals put into separating their garbage is often for naught, as much of the separated recyclables actually end up in the same landfill as other garbage. There are several reasons for this.

First, until recently China imported large quantities of America’s recyclables. This year, China has essentially shut down most recycling imports, which has had a huge impact as the U.S. exported nearly a third of all recyclables. Second, not all plastics, which make up the bulk of items separated for recycling, are recyclable. Third, lower oil prices over the last few years have effectively priced out the economic value of recycling. It’s just not cost effective. And finally, the impact of recycling may actually prove to have an overall negative impact on the environment.

John Tierney points out in a New York Times article that the impact of washing plastics before recycling, coupled with trucking emissions for moving to recycling facilities, could end up adding to green house gasses. Tierney further notes that “all the trash generated by Americans for the next 1,000 years would fit on one-tenth of 1 percent of the land available for grazing.” He adds, “And any tiny amount of land wouldn’t be lost forever, because landfills are typically covered with grass and converted to parkland, like the Freshkills Park being created on Staten Island. The United States Open tennis tournament is played on the site of an old landfill — and one that never had the linings and other environmental safeguards required today.”

In short, like much “settled science” these days, the justification for recycling is just being, well, recycled.




Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


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